Physical Activity Can Prevent and Treat a Host of Ailments
Part II of our series on "Healing Moves," looks at the therapeutic effect exercise can have on diabetes and asthma. Missed Part I ? Click here.
Diabetes: The most rapidly growing chronic disease in America, diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body doesn't produce or properly use insulin. Its alarming rise is linked to our expanding waistlines, junk-food diet and inactivity. Some experts feel that the most common form of diabetes (Type II) is preventable with a proper diet and regular exercise.
Walking and other forms of exercise help prevent and manage diabetes because they affect the very thing that needs to be controlled in this conditionblood glucose levels. When people exercise, the body fuels the activity by taking glucose out of their blood to use for energy. This lowers blood glucose levels, which can be extremely therapeutic in a disease characterized by elevated blood sugar.
But lowering blood sugar is just one mechanism by which exercise helps. Regular exercise also has important metabolic effects, including improving the body's ability to use glucose, increasing the body's sensitivity to insulin and aiding glucose transport. Physical activity also helps people control their weight, and weight loss reduces blood glucose levels, improves insulin sensitivity and helps reduce risk of heart disease.
Exercise may reduce or eliminate the need for diabetes medication. Since exercise makes blood glucose levels fall, some people with Type II diabetes who take drugs to manage their condition find that after they start exercising regularly they no longer need the medication. People with Type I diabetes, whose bodies don't produce insulin, typically require a lower dose of injectable insulin when they exercise.
Asthma: An inflammatory condition of the lungs, asthma is characterized by overly-sensitive airways that react to a wide range of triggers including allergens, temperature change, stress, exertion or hormonal fluctuations. One of the most vexing modern health problems, asthma incidence is increasing at an alarming rate throughout the developed world. Since 1980, asthma cases have more than doubled in the United States.
Why this dramatic rise? Health officials are scrambling to find out. While many theories exist, increasingly experts are calling asthma a disease of civilization, because it's virtually unheard of in preindustrial societies. One of the newest theories to explain the explosive growth in asthma incidence points to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, with its resulting epidemic of obesity.
Harvard Medical School assistant professor Carlos Camargo studied the connection and found that during the same time period that asthma rates skyrocketed, so did obesity. When Camargo explored this link, he found that obesity increases the risk of asthma in adult women and in children. His study of 16,862 children, ages 9 to 14, concluded that the most overweight kids were two to three times as likely to have asthma as the least overweight kids. His research on 116,678 adult women found similar results.
Exactly how obesity increases asthma risk is unclear, Camargo says, "but it may be related to a sedentary lifestyle. In the lab we've shown that if you take really shallow breaths your airways can close down. When kids sit and watch TV for hours on end their breathing tends to become shallow, which may increase bronchial reactivity and airway irritation."
This notion represents a startling reversal of past assumptions about obesity and asthma. Physicians have long recognized that people with asthma tend to be overweight. But the conventional wisdom has been that weight gain occurs because many asthmatics avoid exercise since physical activity can trigger symptoms. Today, however, new evidence suggests that sedentary lifestyles and excess weight may not simply be the result of asthma, but a cause of this increasingly common disease.
For many years, concern about provoking symptoms led physicians to advise asthmatics to avoid exertion. Yet today experts acknowledge that unlike other asthma triggers, physical activity should not be avoided. Even though exercise may trigger asthma, the condition can be controlled through medications and other strategies. And the benefits are so important that asthmatics are now typically encouraged to exercise for overall good health and to help relieve their symptoms. Numerous studies have shown that regular physical activity can decrease the frequency and severity of asthma attacks, reduce the use of medications, cut down on absences from school and work and improve the quality of life.
People with asthma, diabetes or any other chronic health condition should be sure to discuss their exercise with a health care provider. He or she can help you establish a safe and effective physical activity plan and prescribe medications if appropriate.